Trust underpins all healthy relationships, whether between partners, parents and children, teachers and pupils, or brand and consumer. Without trust, our interactions are at best superficial and, at worse, ridden with suspicion. With trust, relationships can transcend fundamental interactions to fulfil potential and explore a greater purpose. Rather than a measure of good or bad, success or failure, trust is built on honesty and transparency.
Although most brands and businesses are aware of this, unfortunately, the quick sales gained from a bit of consumer deception are often more appealing than cultivating genuine trust and loyalty. Short-term financial gain wins over a longer-term approach that ultimately leads to financial stability. Honesty is also challenging; laying yourself bare is uncomfortable.
Since Covid-19 shook the travel industry's foundations, revealed chinks in its value chain and rocked consumer confidence, the need for greater trust and transparency is more pertinent than ever.
Transparency leads to customer confidence
At a basic level, greater transparency about safety, hygiene, cancellations and refunds is vital for travel businesses to crawl out of Covid and instil a renewed sense of trust. Travellers will only feel confident to book and enjoy travel if they can trust the operators, airlines, accommodations and destinations that sell experiences to them. Having been let down with false refund promises and constantly shifting rules and regulations, clear communication is more critical than ever.
Transparency overcomes greenwashing
A 2021 booking.com survey found that 53% of travellers want to make more sustainable choices. Demand for sustainable travel is now so great that there's a risk of saturation of 'green' and 'responsible' claims. If everyone from mammoth hotel chains to tiny eco-lodges splashes sustainability over their communications, how can travellers tell who's genuinely walking the talk? Greenwashing is when a business spends more time and effort marketing sustainability than actually doing it, and the only way for consumers to overcome it is to demand greater transparency. Those accommodations and operators that have impact data and case studies to back up claims will stand out over those hiding behind generic platitudes.
In the middle of tourism's value chain, travel operators and designers can play a vital role in demanding transparency from partners on the ground and relaying facts to travellers. The value of using a travel designer or tour operator is underpinned by trust. The traveller wants a trusted advisor to do the leg work for them regarding where to go, what to do, and where to stay and how best to have a positive impact when travelling. The greater the transparency, the greater the trust.
Transparency cleans up supply chains
From unfair wages and human rights abuses to deforestation and excessive carbon emissions, when it comes to solving the world's biodiversity and climate crises, cleaning up global supply chains is top of the list of priorities. One of the best ways consumers can do their bit is to demand transparency, and businesses can respond by better understanding and sharing their supply chains. Travel is no exception.
Once the top of the value chain demands transparency in the travel industry, it will create a ripple of change. Travellers seek more information from operators; operators seek more information from partners and accommodations; partners and accommodations seek more information from their suppliers, and so on. In an ideal world, no one can jump on the chain before demonstrating strong environmental and social credentials. An operator is only as responsible as a supplier several leaps down the chain.
Transparency brings about systemic change
According to the UNWTO, for every US$100 spent by tourists in a developing country, only US$5 remains in the destination. This phenomenon is known as economic leakage, and it demonstrates that there's something fundamentally wrong with the industry. The travel industry's convoluted supply chain currently skims up to 40% of trip fees away from destinations towards tour operators and agents often based hundreds of miles away. Ironically, often the conservation and community projects that motivate people to travel to these destinations suffer first. Meanwhile, the 2020 booking.com survey found that 67% want to see how their money is going to the local community.
But it doesn't have to be this way, and transparency is the first step towards systemic change. By revealing where and how traveller money is spent, tour operators and designers can take the revenue they need while ensuring that more money goes to those the use funds for a positive impact on the ground.
The Covid-19 crisis has accelerated the urgency of bringing about change since thousands of people and destinations have been left incomeless for over a year, often without government bailouts or furlough schemes to see them through. In Africa particularly, a breakdown of trust between agents, operators and accommodations, due to the holding of deposits and excessively high commissions has revealed cracks in the traditional way of doing business. Trust needs to be rebuilt between traveller and experience and between operator and its destination partners.
As the Stanford Social Innovation Review recently stated, 'The only way that market transformation will be successful is through trust, and trust can be gained only through greater transparency'.
Launching amid this, Niarra’s aim is to shake up a system that's no longer fit for purpose. Niarra proves there's an alternative by putting the needs of those on the ground before our bottom line. By taking no more than 10% commission on the lodges and experiences we sell, we ensure that destinations receive more income for vital conservation and community initiatives, and we have enough to keep sending guests their way.
Leading by example and abiding by our principles of transparency and honesty every step of the way, we hope to send a ripple of change throughout the travel industry. Transformation won't happen overnight, but someone has to start the journey.
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